Sony BMG plans to introduce copy protection on CDs it sells in Australia.

 Sony BMG plans to introduce copy protection on CDs it sells in Australia. The move comes as the parent company in the USA and Europe is removing millions of similar CD’s from storesthat contain software that damages PC’s. At the same time Consumer organisations are calling for a black ban on the buying of all Sony products including the new Sony Bravia, PSP and Sony digital camera’s as a protest to to the Company.

 The company’s general manager for business and HR, Emmanuel Candi,told the Age newspaper the Australian protection software had not been chosen. “Obviously, we would be avoiding the candidates which have caused problems,” he said.

Australian consumers who have purchased overseas manufactured copy-protected CDs online have been asked to wait for a replacement program to be put in place.  If music is among your gift-giving ideas this xmas, beware of the danger still lurking on some store shelves. Compact discs containing software that some have called spyware still can be found at record stores, despite a recall and lawsuits filed by several US states against record label Sony BMG. In Australia Sony BMG claim that 100% of local CD’s do not contain the problem protection software, but fully imported ones from the same Company do.

The discs, which include releases from Neil Diamond and Frank Sinatra, include a software code called Extended Copy Protection, or XCP, intended to limit the copies a consumer can make of the music.Buyers of the discs have been reporting numerous problems with their computers or difficulties in attempting to copy songs onto music folders like iTunes. In mid-November, shortly after blogger Mark Russinovich posted his findings about the problems with the XCP-protected discs, Sony said it would pull them from stores. A patch Sony issued to remove the software opened additional security holes on computers that hackers could exploit.

Bradley Gross, a US attorney who specialises in technology law, said the problems with the Sony discs “are a continuation of a trend, not the start of one.”

“Back in 2002, for instance, both Sony and Universal tried to implement copy protection on their music CDs,” he said. “That protection scheme, however, was easily foiled by using an ordinary magic marker to blacken out a portion of the disc that contained the copy protection.” With the XCP software, Sony now faces a public-relations nightmare that Gross said could have been avoided. “There will always be a certain amount of copying, regardless of the methods used to detect or prevent it,” Gross said. “It is not a secret that record companies are using copy protection methods, nor is it a secret how they do it. Curiously, the only secret is why they insist on doing things in a surreptitious manner.”

The fact that Sony didn’t disclose that the discs put undisclosed code on a user’s computer caused an uproar. “The bigger issue here is security experts are saying this opens even a bigger hole in terms of programs invading someone’s personal computer,” said Andrew Brandt, senior associate editor of PC World. Sony has “only thrown more gas on the fire. And what’s more, consumers were never told about what could happen.”

Andy Gershon, president of V2 Records, whose acts include the White Stripes, Moby, and Stereophonics, believes “cell phones, iPods, and PlayStation 2 are what the future of music is all about” and that bigger record companies are seeking “a distribution monopoly. “Any barrier to the entry of acquiring music is simply someone trying to level the playing field,” he said. “The future of music is all about broadband and downloading digital files. I’ve never heard of complaints about management of digital rights and subscription services. But whenever someone has tried to do that through software on a CD, it has always failed.”

Jim Davis, president of the CD Mobile Fidelity label, said his company has no plans for copy protection. “We’re not worried about ripping copies of our product,” Davis said. “Our customer base is all about people who want to hear better quality, and we’re not going to get into something that affects that.” A lesson learned? As to the future of copying music and the possible protection strategies that may be forthcoming, Brandt believes Sony may have taught others labels a lesson in caution.

“Labels have to be concerned about the idea of taking away the right to own music,” he said. “The whole fight is about who holds the rights to a song and how long when it comes to digital technology. But nobody wants the problems that have surfaced now.” For Bill Weber, the experience with a recently bought Sony CD illustrates some of the problems with the XCP scheme. “I bought a CD, popped it into my combo player and then did what I always do, put the CD into my computer’s CD recorder to transfer the songs into iTunes so that I could enjoy the songs on my iPod,” said Weber.

“Once I did that, I found only garbled noises coming out of my music system. I grabbed the CD case, checked the back, and found a Limited Copy' warning as well as text to the effect that the disc was compatible with Macs and Windows. Nothing said it would not work with iTunes or that it had just planted a new program on my PC."</P><P>Attorney Gross believes better information from record labels would help control illegal copies. "I expect the amount of copying to decrease as two things occur," he said. "First, as the price oflegally’ acquiring music drops, more consumers will open their wallets to the music industry. “Second, the music industry will–indeed must–begin to educate customers about the methods it is using to protect music from being copied illegally.”

Nonetheless, don’t expect to see the end of copy protection schemes soon. “Past failures have not seemed to dissuade the music industry from trying different methods,” Gross said. “Eventually, one method will be more effective than the others, and that method will become the standard.

In a statement to the Age newspaper local Sony BMG executive Candi said “However, there’s a lot of road between where we are today and where the music industry wants to be.” Mr Candi said the most likely options for implementing copy-control software in Australia would be to allow people to make three copies of a CD, which he described as a reasonable compromise.

“One for your computer, one for your player and one for your car,” he said. “But no more. This would also be an education for people.”

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